The men found on the Alithini II oil tanker at the Las Palmas port this week appeared to have symptoms of dehydration and hypothermia and were transferred to hospitals on the island for medical attention after their 4600km journey.

Their incredible survival story made headlines around the world, but tragically people who stow away on planes, ships and other modes of transport for long and hazardous journeys rarely live to tell the tale.

Three men were rescued from the rudder of an oil tanker after spending 11 days crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Three men were rescued from the rudder of an oil tanker after spending 11 days crossing the Atlantic Ocean. (Salvamento Maritimo via AP)

But survival has happened – here are some of the more notable examples of the last century.

We’ve expanded the Australian Oxford Dictionary definition of “stowaway” from a “person who hides in a ship or plane before it leaves, in order to travel without paying or being seen”, to include some who did not directly hide, but secretly boarded planes.

Hates shopping, prefers Rome

In 2012, 11-year-old Liam Corcoran, from Manchester in the UK, went to extreme measures to escape a shopping trip with his mother.

Having given her the slip in a shopping centre, Corcoran headed for Manchester Airport where, without a passport, ticket or boarding pass, he evaded security checks, metal detectors and gate control to board a Jet2 flight bound for Rome.

He was only noticed halfway through the flight and was returned home when the plane flew back to the UK.

Dublin to New York, courtesy of the gab

In 1985, two young boys from Dublin, Ireland, nearly pulled off the runaway of the century.

Keith Byrne, 10, and Noel Murray, 13, ran away from their homes in north Dublin and stowed away or hitchhiked on a boat, a bus, a train and a car to get to Heathrow Airport, nearly 600km away in London.

Irishmen Keith Byrne and Noel Murray were children in 1985 when they travelled by themselves from Dublin to New York via London’s Heathrow Airport. In 2021, a short film, ‘Nothing to Declare’ was made about their exploits. (YouTube)

And that was just the start.

At Heathrow, they evaded security and passport checks to board an Air India flight bound for New York.

They were only caught when a wily police officer at JFK International Airport spotted them looking lost and dishevelled on a pavement.

They eventually confessed and were put on a return flight to Dublin, having spent a free night in a hotel, again courtesy of Air India.

World’s first aerial stowaway

In 1928, 19-year-old Clarence Terhune became a sensation in Germany, after stowing away on the return leg of the maiden flight of the Graf Zeppelin airship, flying from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Terhune, a golf caddy from St Louis, Missouri, who had already established a habit of stowing away on trains and ships and of crashing major sports events, made a bet with his brother-in-law that he could trump all previous stowaways with the Zeppelin.

In 1928 an American Clarence Terhune became a sensation in Germany, after stowing away on the return leg of the maiden flight of the Graf Zeppelin, flying from New Jersey to Friedrichshafen, Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)

He snuck aboard while the dirigible was in its hangar and made his big reveal once over the Atlantic Ocean.

Though made to work in the kitchen for the remainder of the journey and arrested on landing, he was hailed as a hero by the German people, sent telegrams, invited to dinners and was even offered a job, it was reported.

In 1996, 23-year-old Pardeep Saini survived a 10-hour flight from New Delhi to London Heathrow in the wheel well of a British Airways Boeing 747.

Saini’s 19-year-old brother Vijay died on the same attempt, exposed to temperatures of -60 degrees.

Saini’s survival was likely the result of hypoxia combined with hypothermia, essentially putting him into a state of suspended animation, doctors said.

Found wandering the tarmac at Heathrow, Saini said he and his brother had fled India after being accused of having links to Sikh militants.

His application for asylum was refused.

Some stowaways have survived perilous journeys hiding in aircraft wheel units. (Wikimedia Commons)

Cuba to Paris – and a nasty nosebleed

In 2000, 24-year-old Roberto Viza Egües survived 14 hours as a stowaway inside a cargo container on an Air France flight from Havana, Cuba to Paris.

He was exposed to freezing temperatures and low oxygen levels and a few hours in suffered an extreme nosebleed.

When two Parisian grocers to whom the container had been sent discovered him, he was covered in blood.

He’d fled Cuba after fearing his membership of a dissident group was likely to cause him and his family problems.

His request for asylum was denied the same year and he was returned to Cuba.

December 4

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